In the early days when Buddy Harris Jr. was beginning a long and fruitful career in the propane industry, companies didn’t enjoy the benefits of technology. Instead, they relied on employees who paired a creative mind with a desire to uncover solutions.
And if you were fortunate to have a Buddy Harris on staff, ready for the journey and the next challenge that waited, your company was better off. Dixie Gas & Oil Corp. was better off.
The Virginia company said goodbye this past summer to Harris, who spent all 63 years of his professional working career with Dixie Gas & Oil before he finally decided to retire at the age of 82.
Harris’ opportunity with the company came in 1948 when he walked into the Dixie office simply to pay a bill.
“They asked me if I wanted to work for two weeks,” remembers Harris, whose first job for the company was delivering propane by cylinder exchange for cooking, water heating and refrigeration. “They never did tell me not to come back.”
Over the next six decades, Harris held numerous positions, including service technician, service manager and operations manager. He worked on construction projects and built trucks and bulk plants. Much of his time in the last few years was spent on maintenance projects, with an emphasis on refrigeration and HVAC – one segment of Dixie’s diversified business model that also includes convenient stores and Subway restaurants.
“I was on the move most of the time, going from place to place and performing many different things,” Harris says of the variety of work that kept him at Dixie for all of those years. “I didn’t do the same thing every day, year after year. I was in a different place with different problems [to solve].”
Harris has seen the industry change in many ways since the early days. What has stood out? Increased regulations and operating procedures; an impressive growth in propane sales volumes across many markets; a greater focus on safety; and the incorporation of technology.
Harris had been with Dixie eight years before its current president, Chris Earhart, was even born. Earhart calls Harris one of his mentors who would attack any project with a positive attitude and whose work provided a high level of service to Dixie’s customer base.
The Virginia Propane Gas Association (VAPGA) presented Harris with a resolution commending him for his devotion to Dixie Gas & Oil. According to the resolution, Dixie and the Virginia propane industry significantly benefited from Harris’ hard work, selfless efforts and great humor.
“Fewer people stay at the same place their entire life,” says Mary Howell, executive director of the VAPGA. “To me, Buddy is just about a record – not just for the industry but for the whole workforce.”
LOCATION: Verona, Va., with Virginia offices in Lexington and Covington
EMPLOYEES: 100 total (30-40 in propane/delivered products)
PROPANE CUSTOMERS: 7,000
PROPANE SALES: About 4 million gallons annually
Pictured above, Dixie Gas & Oil’s Buddy Harris, front left, with (top) daughter Delena Painter, son Danny Harris, (bottom) daughter Malissa Warren and wife Joan Harris